There is something interesting in the fact that almost from the dawn of intelligence the child is really interested in science.
Behind the hundred "hows" and "whys" of childhood, the eternal questioning as to why flowers grow, how the fire burns, what makes the thunder, is this almost unconscious yearning for scientific knowledge.
The boy who says he hates science has never had it presented to him in the right way. Science is, after all, a wonderfully important subject, because behind it lies the answer to almost every question in philosophy and life. We do not yet realise how much boys' and girls' development can be stimulated by teaching them science from the beginning. Every child desires to find out, and if the natural instinctive desire to know is met in the right way, we can teach children anything.
How can we best encourage a child to study science?
It requires so little to start him on a scientific quest which will provide an immensity of interest, undreamed of by many grown-up people who have never known what it is to study science. In one drop of pond water is a wonderful mass of animal and vegetable life which can be shown to a child under the microscope. Get for the boy, in the first place, an ordinary glass bottle or test tube, and half fill it with pond water, stirring the mud up a little from the bottom of the pond. Then let him look at this through a lens, which can be bought quite cheaply from any optician's shop.
The lens will not display the crowded germ life which the microscope brings into view at once, but it will show a boy a seething mass of minute animal life of the water-flea order, the minute crustaceans, the insects, the eggs and larvae and puppae which are present in thousands in a spoonful or two of pond water.
An inexpensive lens will reveal the wealth of pond life, and will interest children of all ages in natural science
A home-made pond dredger will be a veritable joy to a child. It consists of a piece of muslin with a hole in the centre, which is fastened round the neck of a wide-mouthed bottle about the size of a small tumbler. Round the outer rim of the circle a circular piece of wire can be fixed, with a twist of wire forming a handle on one side. With this apparatus pond life is within reach of any child. He can catch tadpoles in all their stages, from egg to frog. He can collect animalculae of all kinds and vegetable life for his home aquarium, which ought to be arranged carefully so that it will keep clean indefinitely. First tell the boy to examine what he collects in the bottle through the lens, and he will be surprised at the minute organisms on the sides of the glass which the lens will bring into view.
The contents of the bottle must be arranged to form a little aquarium, composed of vegetable and animal life, which will prove invaluable for purposes of teaching any intelligent child.
First the boy must learn that the muddy water will become brilliant and clear after a time if the collection is in good health - that is, if the vegetable life and the animal life balance each other. The child will soon learn that the beautiful green plants, which are called weeds by the uninitiated, will give off oxygen in the water, which is used up by the animals, who give forth carbonic acid gas, to be utilised in turn for the growth of the plants. Get one of the small books on natural history dealing with pond life, and make the child look at the pictures, and read about the animals he collects in his aquarium.
There is no need to go to any expense in starting an aquarium. A large glass jelly-jar will answer the purpose, placed in the nursery window, to be watched day by day. Children can gradually find out what plants and animals like to be together, and make their aquariums decorative with stones and pebbles. Encourage them to keep notebooks in which they can write about the development of eggs, the metamorphosis of the tadpole, and note the day when the adult frog was devoured by the minnow, because it had ceased to be a water animal, and thus became defenceless in this environment.
Children delight in collecting and classifying all sorts of things, and so long as this collecting does not take the form of destruction, it is a good thing. There is no scientific reason in allowing a child to kill butterflies or take a nest of eggs to add to his collection.
Dredging the pond for subjects for the microscope or aquarium. A home made dredger can be formed of a wide-mouthed bottle, a piece of muslin, and a length of strong wire
It would be far more truly scientific to teach him to watch the mother bird and the habits of the young birds after they are hatched. He should be given a picture book with different insects, butterflies, and birds to read about in order to give him some exact elementary scientific knowledge.
Let him grow his own seeds, and teach him to watch how the shoot and the root grow upwards and downwards from, the seed. Let him grow mustard and cress, collect geological specimens, and classify them according to the different rocks. Answer the child when he asks, "How does it work?" If you do not know the answer yourself, then find out with the aid of children's science books, which are simple enough for the youngest understanding.